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Denver election 2021: Five questions, $450M worth of bonds and a controversial arena

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Denver election 2021: Five questions, $450M worth of bonds and a controversial arena

Four years ago, a $937 million bond package seeking to raise money for things like overdue roadwork and improvements to city cultural facilities cruised to an electoral victory in Denver.

Mayor Michael Hancock and supporters are back on the ballot this year, asking voters in the Nov. 2 election to approve a $450 million bond package that would take a bite out of the city’s $4 billion backlog of projects.

Dubbed the RISE Denver general obligation bonds, the five debt-inducing measures would fund work including the construction of two new libraries, upgrades to homeless shelters and, most controversially, a new arena at the National Western Center campus.

For supporters, the time to move is now. They point out that federal regulators have indicated that interest rates will be increased starting next year and say investing in city infrastructure will fuel Denver’s recovery from the economic damage done by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The reality is we have got to play a role in reigniting our economy,” Hancock said. “Most of these projects are focused in underserved neighborhoods. The post-pandemic era is when we focus on delivering services and jobs to underserved communities.”

The RISE package may face more voter scrutiny than the 2017 bonds, particularly when it comes to Referred Question 2E.

The costliest of the five measures, 2E would fund the construction of a 10,000-seat multi-use arena on the National Western Center campus a renovate an arena built there in 1909 to turn it into a public market.

Hancock sees those projects as the “economic stimulus” portion of the bond package, facilities that will create opportunities for small businesses and bring some money back into the city once complete.

Sarah Lake is leading the No on the Arena Bond campaign against the measure. She says 2E is half-baked, poorly planned and economically unsound, pointing to feasibility studies that raised questions about whether the proposed arena could compete for concerts with the then Pepsi Center and 1stBank Center in Broomfield and if the public market would be sustainable without more population density around the National Western campus.

The long-planned projects were expected to be funded through a partnership with a private developer but the city paused the bidding process for that last year amid the pandemic.

“The city is rushing to pass the cost on to taxpayers after the public-private partnership fell through without taking the time to consider other more equitable ways to finance the project,” Lake said. “We are not going to see the economic benefits if the market and arena ultimately do not turn out to be profitable.”

The RISE Denver campaign backing the bond package has emphasized that 2E will not raise taxes, but Lake says that’s disingenuous. The ballot language leaves the door open for the city to increase property taxes by $35.2 million a year to pay off the debt.

City finance officials say that even under the most conservative estimations, the city expects to be able to pay for the bond package without increasing taxes and there is no intention to do so.

In the north Denver neighborhoods of Globeville and Elyria-Swansea that surround the National Western campus, known collectively as GES, opinions over 2E differ.

The GES Coalition Organizing for Health and Housing Justice has come out against the measure, saying in a news release that it is “not in line with equitable development, nor equitable recovery.” Instead of 2E, the coalition wants the city to focus on health and housing services like investing in rent-controlled and subsidized housing.

Longtime resident Juan Velos urged voters to pass the bonds at a news conference held Wednesday at the train station next to the National Western campus. He was joined by Councilwoman Debbie Ortega and more than a dozen other people supporting all five measures.

“The market that is being proposed is very important for the community,” Velos said through a translator. “We’re really going to try to raise the consciousness of the community and really complete these projects so it will be something successful.”

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Fatal overnight shooting in Aurora believed to be connected to crash

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Colorado Springs police involved in fatal shooting, crash overnight

A man was shot at 16th Avenue and Lansing Street in Aurora late Tuesday night, dying hours later at the hospital.

Police do not have suspect descriptions and have limited info on the incident.They are investigating area surveillance footage and witnesses. But authorities do believe a two-vehicle crash at the nearby intersection of Montview Boulevard and Peoria Street was caused by the people involved in the shooting. Those people fled the scene of the shooting and collision.

The Aurora Police Department is asking for those with any information to call 303-627-3100.

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Biden to give away 400 million N95 masks starting next week

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Biden to give away 400 million N95 masks starting next week

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free to Americans starting next week, now that federal officials are emphasizing their better protection against the omicron variant of COVID-19 over cloth face coverings.

The White House announced Wednesday that the masks will come from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile, which has more than 750 million of the highly protective masks on hand. The masks will be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers across the country. They will begin shipping this week for distribution starting late next week, the White House said.

This will be the largest distribution of free masks by the federal government to the public since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In early 2020, then-President Donald Trump’s administration considered and then shelved plans to send masks to all American at their homes. President Joe Biden embraced the initiative after facing mounting criticism this month over the inaccessibility — both in supply and cost — of N95 masks as the highly transmissible omicron variant swept across the country.

After facing similar criticism over a winter shortage of COVID-19 at-home test kits, Biden this week launched a website for Americans to order four rapid tests to be shipped to their homes for free, with the first tests to ship later this month.

The White House said the masks will be made available at pharmacies and community health centers that have partnered with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday updated its guidance on face coverings to more clearly state that properly fitted N95 and KN95 masks offer the most protection against COVID-19. Still, it didn’t formally recommend N95s over cloth masks.

The best mask “is the one that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long, that you can tolerate in public indoor settings,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said last week.

Details were not immediately available on the specifics of the program, including the sort of masks to be provided, whether kid-size ones will be available and whether the masks could be reworn.

The White House said that “to ensure broad access for all Americans, there will be three masks available per person.”

N95 or KN95 masks are more widely available now than at any other time during the pandemic, though they are often more costly than less-protective surgical masks or cloth masks.

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Vail Resorts is threatening immigration status of foreign investors in Mount Snow project, Vermont regulators allege

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Vail Resorts is threatening immigration status of foreign investors in Mount Snow project, Vermont regulators allege

Vermont regulators this month issued a cease-and-desist order to Vail Resorts, alleging that the Colorado-based ski giant is reneging on an agreement with roughly 30 immigrant investors that could lead to their deportation.

These foreign investors came to the United States under the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program — created by Congress in 1990 to facilitate economic development in exchange for the chance to receive a green card, or permanent U.S. residency status.

In 2014, more than 100 people invested $500,000 with Peak Resorts — which Vail Resorts bought in 2019 — for the purposes of building an improved ski lodge and upgraded snowmaking facility at Mount Snow in southern Vermont. In return for their capital and job creation, the investors received temporary residency, with the ability to become permanent U.S. residents in the future.

But Vermont regulators, in their Jan. 7 order, said Vail Resorts is trying to return money to dozens of investors involved in the Mount Snow project before their immigration petitions have been processed by the federal government — which, the state argued, would violate Vermont security laws and could result in investors losing their legal status to remain in the country.

“If your application hasn’t been decided yet and you get refunded, you’re out of possibilities to get your permanent green card,” said Michael S. Pieciak, a commissioner with Vermont’s Department of Financial Regulation, which filed the cease-and-desist order. “That’s a very serious outcome for these investors.”

Quinn Kelsey, a Vail Resorts spokesperson, said in a statement that the company is “evaluating our legal recourse” but that it is “confident our practices are fully compliant.”

“Since the Mount Snow EB-5 Project’s formation in 2014, our communications with investors have been transparent, clear and compliant with securities laws,” Kelsey said.

Vail Resorts did not respond when asked why it was refunding the Mount Snow investors.

These investments are primarily an avenue for people to get a coveted green card, rather than make a significant return on investment, Pieciak said.

The state became aware of the refunds in late November and early December when investors told them they had been contacted by Vail Resorts, asking them to complete a form with bank wire transfer instructions.

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